Updated 9th August 2023

Healthy aging: The surprising power of your social life

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    Unfortunately, many of us spend our later years in poor health. But is this avoidable? And can we actually increase our healthy years?

    While aging is inevitable, there are steps we can take to minimize its effects on our health. And, surprisingly, some of these steps have nothing to do with exercise or diet.

    Simply spending time with others can provide countless benefits to us as we age.

    But how can we maintain these connections? Does retirement affect our social interactions? And can attitude alone keep you healthier in your later years?

    In today’s episode, one of the world’s top experts on aging, Prof. Rose Anne Kenny, joins us to explore these ideas. 

    Rose Anne is a world-leading geriatrician at Trinity College Dublin, where she leads a huge, long-term study on aging. She’s also the author of the number one international bestseller Age Proof: The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life.

    Mentioned in today's episode:

    You can buy Rose Anne’s book here.

    Follow ZOE on Instagram.

    Episode transcripts are available here.

    Is there a nutrition topic you’d like us to explore? Email us at podcast@joinzoe.com, and we’ll do our best to cover it. 

    ZOE Science & Nutrition

    Join us on a journey of scientific discovery.


    [00:00:00] Rose Anne: We've evolved to need other people. If you take macaque monkeys and you isolate a monkey, do a biopsy of their lymph node, the genes which are good for the immune system had been down regulated. And then we know in humans, all of the inflammatory markers we frequently measure or also higher in people who have poor social networks, social engagement, or who experience loneliness.

    [00:00:35] Jonathan: Rose Anne, thank you for joining me today

    [00:00:37] Rose Anne: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.

    [00:00:39] Jonathan: Now, It's very exciting because this is like a different topic that's I think really important and we haven't touched on at all before in the podcast. 

    I'm really excited and we had a lot of questions from our listeners. Now, I'd like to start with something that we always do, which is a quick fire round of questions from our listeners and the rules are simple, but we know that professors find this really hard which is that you can say yes or no. Or if you have to, you can give us a one sentence answer.

    Are you willing to give it a go? 

    [00:01:06] Rose Anne: I am of course. Yes. Go.

    [00:01:08] Jonathan: Alright brilliant. Is it inevitable that most of us will have many years of poor health before we die? 

    [00:01:15] Rose Anne: No. 

    [00:01:16] Jonathan: That's very good news. I always like it when people say this in the podcast.

    Alright. Do scientists know how to slow down aging?  

    [00:01:25] Rose Anne: Yes. 

    [00:01:26] Jonathan: Can having more friends actually keep me healthier?

    [00:01:30] Rose Anne: Am I allowed to say? Absolutely, yes. 

    [00:01:33] Jonathan: You are allowed to say. Absolutely. Yes. I love that. I love this one from our listeners. Does delaying retirement reduce the effects of aging?

    [00:01:41] Rose Anne: Not necessarily. 

    [00:01:43] Jonathan: Okay. We'll come back to that. And finally, and you're allowed, you're definitely allowed a sentence now. What's the biggest myth about aging that you often hear? 

    [00:01:53] Rose Anne: That it's inevitably an unpleasant process.

    [00:01:58] Jonathan: And that's not true? 

    [00:01:59] Rose Anne: It's not true. Quality of life consistently in a number of longitudinal studies gets better as we get older. 

    In my own study and indeed in the twin study, in the King study, after the age of 50, life gets better. Quality of life improves, and there are probably a number of reasons for that. Most of us are in a better place financially. We have less pressures in terms of children, et cetera, and we're more comfortable in our own skin. 

    Less concerned about what others are thinking of us or assuming about us. So quality of life continues to improve on very well validated scales up to late seventies, early eighties, and then it gradually declines. And the factor, which predominantly influences that decline is physical illness. So most of the focus of research in this area is to try and compress the period of life that we spend with any, the generic term is disability, and that basically means comorbidities, physical illnesses like arthritis, like heart problems, kidney problems, et cetera. 

    So we're trying to compress that period and maximize healthy. Life expectancy.  

    [00:03:24] Jonathan: I love the idea that life gets better. I'm about to turn 50. I've got just another couple of years. So I love the idea that actually my happiness is going to to go up. And it feels like this is often not the story that we tell ourselves. 

    And I'm actually just thinking about like my own experience. So my grandmother had Alzheimer's she got this quite early, so in her late sixties. And I think that had a big impact on me, a huge impact on my father. And so for him I think he's worried that this will happen to him ever since. 

    It's obviously, one of the most awful things I think that can happen to a family member. And so I think there's a lot of fear perhaps associated with aging, even when you are still healthy.  

    [00:04:06] Rose Anne: That's a really good point. 

     The first thing to say, we can flip that and say that the topic we're talking about predominantly this morning, social engagement and friendship and having a good laugh that that actually mitigates against cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease or any other form of dementia in later life. 

    And in fact, it's a major risk factor for developing poor brain health in later life. If you are painfully socially isolated. So it's another really good reason to focus on and work on friendship.  

    [00:04:40] Jonathan: Just before we dive into all of that in detail I'd love almost just to start with aging because I was just thinking about this morning and, we have the fun of lots of different scientists coming and talking on this podcast but I thought the starting question is like, Why do we age at all? 

    Why can't we live forever and certainly why is it that we see all these signs of aging?  

    [00:05:02] Rose Anne: Of course there are a few very few scientists who believe that in fact, we can live forever. But there is actually very little evidence for that. And maybe we might get just two definitions outta the way, Jonathan, to start with, lifespan refers to the maximum number of years an individual can live. 

    So it's unique to everyone. And at the moment, the longest lived person, the longest lifespan that we know we as humans can achieve is 122 years and five months. And that was Jeanne Louise Calment. You'll have heard of her French woman south of France who lived, her lifespan was that long. Life expectancy, which is what we normally talk about. 

    That's the average age that we can expect to live at different stages of our life. So at the moment, life expectancy, depending on where you're living and depending on gender is early eighties, mid eighties, et cetera. Although social class and your lifestyle is a major determinant of that, There are some who believe that we will cure aging but the vast majority of scientists in this field don't think that's the case. 

    But, and as I said earlier on, our purpose is to try and manage the diseases that are fairly, very common, certainly, and may even be inevitable in some cases with longer life span and manage those diseases so that we're, they're compressed. It's fair to say that in, in the Western world, about 20% of our overall life is spent with some disease or disability. 

    That's an awful lot. One in five of our years. So to try and really get that down and the way to do that, of course is to prevent diseases and we've got loads of information on that. And also to manage them early. Identify the early signs of disease and manage that at a really early stage. And that's where most of the science is showing great promise at early detection of something going wrong and intervention at that stage. 

    [00:07:19] Jonathan: And Rose Anne, I've heard people start to use this word health span more often in the last few years, which is definitely not a word I'd come across before. Like how does that fit into the different, what's the difference between that and lifespan?  

    [00:07:31] Rose Anne: So I've given you the generic definitions of lifespan and life expectancy, but what I'm saying compress the period of time at the end of life with where we have disability or diseases. That's extending your healthy life span.  

    [00:07:48] Jonathan: Amazing. And you've talked quite a lot, obviously, about getting particular illnesses and we know obviously if you get a severe illness, then suddenly your quality of life falls away. Is there a sort of, background toing that is going on as well, which I think is how often we think about this idea of aging. 

    Just like every year, somehow you are degrading a little bit and, my, as I said, my, my children are pointed to my wrinkles and they're gray hair that's starting to appear, which seems different from getting, diabetes or something that really really collapses that quality of life. 

    [00:08:21] Rose Anne: Yeah so the changes occur very early on. You'll be familiar possibly with David Barker's theory that actually our aging process. He was a obstetrician endocrinologist who did a lot of work on predictors for aging, and identified that it wasn't just in your mother's womb, you as a fetus. 

    But indeed your grandmother and your mother, that a lot of this was predetermined by their dietary intake, et cetera, and environment. And of course that probably set the scene for some of the socioeconomic factors that influenced the aging process. But I hate that because we can do nothing about that. 

    So let's leap, leap forward to us and now, and just to say that probably it, we certainly in childhood changes start to take place. The Dunedin study is a really good example of this. Where in Dunedin, in New Zealand, they studied a thousand children born in one year and followed them through every four years with repeated tests of health, socioeconomic status, both subjective, I.E what I think I'm feeling, and objective I am measuring something.  

    And they found that actually when they looked at epigenetic clocks, which are the methylated DNA in our genes, which can switch off and on, they're the dynamic markers of aging probably in the cell. They found that those changes were quite dramatic even at the age of 38. But it wasn't just the clocks that were different in this group of a thousand people. 

    Other markers were different, like grip strength, how strong their grip strength was, and we know that's a very good predictor for future muscle weakness and even frailty and sarcopenia. The speed of their gait using a very standard gait speed test, that's the walking speed. Blood pressure changes even vasculature in the eye. 

    When they looked at the vessels in the eye. Some of them were slightly thicker than they should have been, like like a prodromal or an early phase of possible hypertension in the future, et cetera and atherosclerosis, et cetera. So this group, all of the same age, all the same chronological age, the same numbers on their birthday cake of 38 actually had not only epigenetic changes, suggesting accelerated aging, but also hard objective health measures, if you like, physical physiological measures of accelerated age. 

    [00:11:00] Jonathan: And Rose Anne, just to make sure I I've got that. 'cause it was a lot of quite complex science. You're saying that you could take a group of, still quite young at 38 all the same age, and there are all of these different things you can measure, which are very, each one of them is quite tiny, but actually you can really see this difference already in sort of their internal rate of aging. Which is different from just looking on their skin and saying like, how wrinkly you are. But actually there are all of these many different things inside you that you can already see are on different paths.  

    [00:11:27] Rose Anne: So that's exactly right. 

    Now the finish, to bring this story full circle, the finishing point was that those who had appeared to have a faster aging, appeared to be physically older than the others, actually had issues with childhood, so had experienced adverse childhood experiences, either depression or alcoholism in the family, or divorce in a family or poverty, or they themselves were embarking on poor life health behaviors like smoking, alcohol, excess drugs, et cetera. So they were the drivers even at that early age for an accelerated aging and the ways we know we can measure aging biologically.  

    Not only that, but when they repeated the measures, they found that this group continued to age at a faster pace a few years after that. 

    So what I'm saying is that this starts very, it starts early on. And that's why it's important. I think, that we're aware of the factors which drive the aging process that we've got control over. That's 80% of aging, which comes back to one of the earlier questions I asked, answered very definitively. We have control over 80%. 

    [00:12:45] Jonathan: That's brilliant. So you are saying 80% actually is in our control. And I love that. And you're not the first person to say that on this podcast, which is, I was brought up with this idea, basically you were doomed by your, like your genes and your upbringing. So by the time you're 18 it's all over. 

    And I love the fact that actually modern science is saying something very different. So that for anyone listening to this actually, wherever you are today in all of those different measures, you can, you could make active choices about your lifestyle and can really change the direction of your health is that is that your view? 

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    [00:13:16] Rose Anne: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Genes are responsible for 20%, probably in some studies, 30%, so it varies, but that's up to the age of 80. Now, if you make it to 80, then your genes are more dominant in governing your aging process, and they kick, they're about, they responsible for about 40% of the process after 80. 

    [00:13:38] Jonathan: So if you make it to 123, probably there were some beneficial genes in that it wasn't only your lifestyle, but even there you're saying it's more than half of it is actually about lifestyle and less than half is your genes.  

    [00:13:51] Rose Anne: So after the age of 80, if you come from a family where, siblings all lived into their nineties and hundreds, then you know, that factor kicks in, in, in more dominantly. 

    [00:14:01] Jonathan: Now Rose Anne I thought there's one, one thing that in your book that you know really struck me and you said that in, in 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged over 65 outnumbered children under five worldwide, which I thought is like an amazing statistic, right? That suddenly they're like more old people effectively than small children. 

    And I just wondered what's the implication of this sort of growing elderly population for everyone listening to the show? 

    [00:14:30] Rose Anne: There are a number of aspects that we can approach that from. The first thing to say is today's 60 year old, or 65 year old is yesterday's, 45 year old. And I think that's becoming much and more apparent and there's a lot of reasons for that, including our attitude. 

    [00:14:45] Jonathan: Could you explain what you mean by that? 

    [00:14:46] Rose Anne: Yeah. I think society's attitude towards people getting older is changing. It isn't as negative it as it was that enables individuals to feel better about getting older. So I think that attitude makes a big difference to the fact that we are functioning much younger than the last generation and the generation before that.  

    Also, of course, we know the lifestyle changes that need to be implemented and by and large are implementing many of them, although we do have a big obesity problem, and I for various reasons, seem to be deaf and blind to the factors that can change that at a societal level is becoming more and more common The implications of an aging society are that it, I would like to say is very positive in terms of the numbers of older persons, the wisdom they bring, et cetera. 

    I think we need to look at this very ingrained date for retirement. That has to be looked at again, and people should be given choice. Many people want to continue in their role or in a modified version of their role after a certain age, and we have to reframe the workplace so that one can do that in whatever way suits them best.

    But that will be the best suit for the institution or organization as well. So we really need to look at that.  

    [00:16:15] Jonathan: And Roseanne you, 'cause you answered the, one of our questions right at the beginning about retirement. In, in a sort of, it depends. So I think this question was, is it actually good for people to retire or actually if you delay retired, you stay healthier. And I'm fascinated by that. My parents are in their seventies and they're both still working. And it strikes me when I meet them and I meet their friends that actually they're much younger than many of their friends. And it seems to me that, to me, like just anecdotally that their work, which sometimes drives myself and my siblings crazy. 'cause they're like surely you should have more time for your grandchildren, actually seems to be keeping them healthier and younger, is there any truth in this and what should listeners think about as they're thinking about retirement? 

    [00:16:59] Rose Anne: You've touched on a few components of how we've evolved that are really important. First of all we've evolved to require purpose. Having a purpose is terribly important. There's lots of work around forced retirement and how toxic that is and how beneficial it is to give people choice. 

    That's why I keep coming back to choice, because with choice, you are in control. And again, we've evolved to need control. As humans. Forcing someone to retire, they have no control over that is bad for their physical health, bad for our biology. So I think your parents are doing the right thing. 

    I'm sorry, you'll just have to get longer, baby minding ours from whoever.  

    [00:17:39] Jonathan: And so if somebody's thinking about this in the moment, and maybe they are coming towards retirement and maybe they're some way off, but they're thinking about planning their life what would you advise, and therefore you're saying actually, hey, just keep working full time for as long as you can, or how would you help them to think about this? 

    [00:17:57] Rose Anne: It very much depends on the individual because it, some people actually can't wait to retire 'cause they have a bucket list, a mile long and they just can't wait to hit it. And I meet some people who have retired. Some of them were forced retirement in the health service who who said they've never been busier. 

    You'll be familiar with this. The listeners will know this. So they've made the right choice, it's all about choice and they're in control. Of their choices. I think it, it's very much down to the individual and the individual if you're hesitant or uncertain, do it gradually. 

    [00:18:26] Jonathan: So it sounds like a lot of things we talk about is ZOE, there's a lot of personalization here. There isn't like one answer for everybody. This is about what works for you. But interestingly it's a big shift from this old view that what everyone should be pushing for is to get retired as soon as possible, because work was this unpleasant thing and if only you could retire, then this is when all your, of your like good years start. It sounds like you're saying for many of us, because you lose this purpose, potentially that might not be true.  

    [00:18:55] Rose Anne: Yes. And after the age of 60, 65, you could have another 30 years to live. 

    So you need to know how you want to spend that, that 30 years. Then don't forget the value. The institutional memory and knowledge and wisdom and benefit that individuals can bring to their organization. Like this isn't just about the individual, it's about what they give back to the organization. 

    And your original question that we started with was the implications of this changing demography of an aging society. And the implications are we need people back in the workforce. We'll need, we will need those numbers in the workforce. They're the implications. And frankly, our workforce and our society will remain healthier for longer if they choose to stay and work just like your healthy parents. 

    [00:19:44] Jonathan: Look I'd love to talk a bit about some more of the science behind this and actually talk about your specific study because you've been running this brilliant study in Ireland for many years now called TILDA. And I actually took a look on the website a few weeks ago, and it has the best mission statement for a study that I have ever seen. 

    Most studies don't even have mission statements. So this one says, to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old. Which I just thought That's really a great scientific mission. Could you tell us a bit about the study and what it's hoping to discover? And then I think we can talk some more about this impact on social relationships and things like that. 

    [00:20:23] Rose Anne: So it's been running since 2006, and just apropos the mission statement. Last year, the data from Eurostat showed that Ireland actually had the best quality of life for people over the age of 65. So we're there. 

    The best perceived health, perceived health, not objective measures. That's different. So those two things. And also we know that the media coverage with respect to ageism has actually changed in the last 10 years in Ireland and it's been attributed to the TILDA study. So that just shows the power of a study. We are very exercised with engaging with public and policy at every single step of our science, and I think that's something that has benefited the study hugely and society as a whole. 

    [00:21:13] Jonathan: I love that Rose Anne, because this whole ZOE is really all about this idea of taking the most cutting edge science and allowing it to connect to just regular people who want to understand it. But historically, it's been very hard. So it's hidden behind, journals that are, no normal person can understand. 

    So I love this idea that it's doing real cutting edge science, but it's also really helping people to understand it as you go.  

    [00:21:35] Rose Anne: Yeah. But honestly, how privileged are we? To be able to do the science and actually see the impact of the science. It's, we're in a, it's a fantastic place to, to be in, in my view. 

    So it's a longitudinal study on aging, much like the twin study at Kings. And we follow the same people aged 50 and over every two years and apply the same tests to them every two years. Now I need to explain just how challenging That was in Ireland. We did not have a data set, which other countries have the US and UK and most European countries where we could identify addresses and match them with ages and see where people 50 and over lived, and then call on them and ask them to take part in the study. 

    We didn't have that. All we were able to do is randomly select addresses, so we randomly selected from a data set, 30,000 addresses. Cold called on the, on those homes, knocked on the door. Hello? Does anybody here live here aged 50 or more? And if so, would you like to take part in a study on aging with Trinity College Dublin for the next 10 or more years, maybe till death to us apart? 

    67% said who met those criteria said yes, I will.  

    [00:22:49] Jonathan: So two thirds of people said yes when you knocked on the door and said: "Would you commit the rest of your life to doing science with me?"  

    [00:22:54] Rose Anne: Yes. Yes. Isn't that amazing Now, but bear in mind that we did three to four years of piloting from 2006, this was 2009. 

    Ireland had just gone into a recession, as had the rest of the world. And in my opinion, that age group felt they saw emigration again from Ireland of our young students or our young people had to leave 'cause there was no work. They wanted to give something back. And they have. So what we do is we see the same people every two years and we refresh the sample as the group that we're involved in the original study age. 

    And we do everything. We, 'cause we're trying to understand. The tapestry of what it's like to have the experience of aging in Ireland, what, what does all that tapestry, all that color look like? So from a health perspective, we do subjective health, asking about, do you have this? Do you have that? 

    Do you feel this from a health perspective. From a health perspective, we also do objective measurements. We measure blood pressure, we measure brain blood flow. We do MRI scans of brains. We measure your walking speed, we measure your bone density, et cetera. We do genetic measurements including the clocks we were talking about, the epigenetic clocks we do for nutritional assessments including now, feces, stools for microbiome.  

    [00:24:14] Jonathan: I'm glad to hear that. Big believers of microbiome here. 

    [00:24:17] Rose Anne: I know. Mental health measures, income and assets. And the funny thing there is when we had the discussions with the economists who were helping us with the study they, we were going through the different questions, 'cause you can't ask, you can't cover everything in detail, so you have to cherry pick a bit. And they said, oh, no one's gonna ever gonna answer questions about incontinence. I said they won't tell you how much money they have in the bank either. And I was right. I was right. The most difficult information to get is the economics information. 

    The rest is no problem. We do a lot around work in retirement, Jonathan, 'cause we're following people through their retirement period, et cetera. Marital status. Household structure, family networks and friendships and social participation and yeah. How much how much, how active you are, both with your friends and family, but also in volunteering and other clubs and organizations, and then of course education.

    [00:25:08] Jonathan: And Rose Anne, I was really interested to talk about, that sort of social network because I think there are various of these sort of, Big studies that cover, look at people over time, as you said, longitudinal studies, they tend to focus on like measurable health, right? The sort of thing that a doctor can use a machine to evaluate because that I think is what, science and doctors have tended to be comfortable with. 

    And I think what's brilliant here is you were looking at all of these things to do with relationships which really have not been seen in the same way as I think I think historically probably even like proper subjects of social study. Could you tell us a bit about what you found? 

    [00:25:49] Rose Anne: So, social participation, friendship, social relationships is as important as all of the other measures that we've talked about so frequently, like exercise and diet and physical activity, and even smoking. 

    It's as it has as strong a biological imprint impact as those factors. And the reason is we believe it's like thirst or hunger. We've evolved to need other people, just like we've evolved to need food and we've evolved to need water, we've evolved to need other people, and then when we deny ourselves that exposure the effect is in fact, as bad as, as toxic as anything you can get, biologically. 

    What it does is it triggers chronic inflammation in the system and chronic inflammation is probably the underlying biological dysfunction or abnormality that underpins all of the big diseases we know about cancer, heart disease, strokes, et cetera. So loneliness triggers chronic inflammation, which is why those diseases are associated very much so with loneliness, as is dementia. 

    [00:27:09] Jonathan: I think a lot of people listening to this are gonna be really shocked to hear that. I think everyone listening will probably say that They understand that being lonely is a terrible thing. And there will probably be some people listening who are experiencing that and it's really difficult. 

    And other people who are aware that it's something that maybe they're worried about, particularly as they age, I think they'd be quite shocked to hear that there is a direct link between loneliness and their health, which I think you said was as strong as whether or not you do exercise. And I think anyone listening to this podcast has heard lots of scientists say, exercise has a huge impact on your health. 

    [00:27:43] Rose Anne: So that, that is absolutely the case. There's buckets of science behind this. Good science. I'm just gonna give you one lovely example. Because it fits with how we've evolved. And if you take macaque monkeys, and you isolate a monkey, and they're gregarious animals, as are we, you isolate a monkey, do a biopsy of their lymph node, which is the engine for inflammation in the body. 

    Say, say our neck lymph nodes, and your listeners will know this, we get a throat infection, or we're feeling down or fatigued, or we can feel "glands in my neck" is the expression. They took a biopsy of that and found that for the isolated monkeys, that the genes which regulate inflammation were upregulated, so they were active. 

    In other words, there was an inflammatory process going on, and the genes which fight against infection and are good for the immune system had been down regulated. So they'd been dampened down, were not as active as they should have been, and that was just within 48 hours of monkeys, being isolated. And then we know in humans, all of the inflammatory markers we frequently measure are also higher in people who have poor social networks, social engagement, or who experience loneliness. 

    So the important thing therefore, is to put as much effort into building your friendships as you do to choosing your foods. Or to selecting your physical activity that you like. It's as important as that. And then in that context, mix them. So eat out with people and do physical activity with people.

    Again, with Covid, more and more people where, you know, doing yoga on their own at home. And I actually think you need to get back into group sessions now with people because you get not just the physical and biological benefit of the yoga itself, but it's the group interaction, the social interaction, the laughter, laughter that's terribly important.  

    [00:29:51] Jonathan: So we talked a lot about loneliness, which is a sort of, this is the bad outcome, but I'd love to talk almost about let's say you're just at the average level in your study, so you're presumably not in a position where you don't know anyone.

    Is it possible, in fact, to improve your health by just having more engagement with friends and family? So can people listen to this and say, rather than "Oh my God, I'm really scared about being lonely". Is there a more positive take of things you could do that is actually going to both make you happier and make you live healthier for longer? 

    Absolutely. So again, coming back to the work, people who continue to dip in and outta work or do some sort of of activity relating to work and occupation are much less likely to be lonely and actually have much better health. Likewise, volunteering. So most volunteering is done by older persons or persons who are retired.

    Those who volunteer on a regular basis are, have a better quality of life, less physical illness and less depression. And because it's a longitudinal study, we've been actually able to adjust for did they? Were they like that at baseline and they're just the healthier ones who volunteer, et cetera. 

    That is not the case. Volunteering independently influences your biological health.  

    That's amazing. So it's not just that people who are healthier end up doing this. You're saying that even when you are, 60, 65, 70, you could decide to do things which are gonna see more engagement with more people and it's just gonna increase your number of healthy years. 

    [00:31:20] Rose Anne: Absolutely. And so it's an independent factor. And then coupled with that, 'cause it's hard I think to dissociate these two things is your attitude. So people who are engaged and more socially interactive actually have a much more positive attitude towards aging. And believe it or not, you are as young as you feel. Attitude and your own perception of how you're aging independently, determines your aging process. And we've looked at this and other studies have, but particularly TILDA 'cause from the get go we asked questions about how you perceive yourself aging, what your attitude is. And people who felt that they were their chronological age, more or less around that, the same number of candles on the birthday cake actually, they aged more quickly.  

    And again, we were able to, because of the richness of the data, we were able to adjust for any factors that might have influenced that. And how you see yourself aging independently determined the pace of your subsequent aging for 10 years, hence,  

    [00:32:28] Jonathan: I love that. So basically what you're saying is because I'm convinced that actually I'm only 25, I'm actually slowing down my aging and I should stick with this illusion permanently. I may tell my wife that.  

    [00:32:38] Rose Anne: So your attitude does matter. And that's, it's much easier to have a positive attitude if you are engaged with other peers who also have a positive attitude and you're constantly networking. It's harder to have a positive attitude if you're alone, if you're isolated in your attitude. 

    Because the media can sometimes be negative and you just need something to buffer that. And there's no better buffer than friends or acquaintances even. And having a good laugh and being, being surrounded by others who are positive.  

    [00:33:07] Jonathan: That's amazing. I'd love to dig a little bit into what these social interactions mean, because you talked a lot about friends. I often think quite a lot about family when I think about social interactions. And then we also had a bunch of questions around, does any of this count, if it's online social connection. Do you have any answers from any of your data about those different things? 

    [00:33:29] Rose Anne: Okay, so the first thing I can say is both friends and family are very important. It's not about, however, the quantity of your relationships, it's the quality. If a friendship or a family member or engagement with a family member is strained or unpleasant, that is not good for us. And we find that triggers a stress process. 

    Stress hormones, autonomic nervous system, which are our kind of stress calibrators in the body, all increase and they're bad for health. So the thing about friends is we can walk away from a toxic friendship more or less, but it's very difficult to walk away from a family relationship that's toxic. So you have to really be aware of that, I think and manage your exposure to that in a family and share it with other family members. 

    And that, again, sharing does have a problem. That, that's the first thing with respect to family and friends. So it's about the quality.  

    Online is really interesting. There have been loads of studies with respect to this and meta-analysis and systematic reviews. And pretty much the consensus up until three or four years ago was, yeah, probably online overall was very, was good. 

    But most of the studies actually measured online by number of hours of exposure. And frankly, online looking at pornography is different from online talking to grandmother, so a number of hours of exposure. So it, so the way the studies have been done aren't, isn't great. To date and I, and there's that now a lot of activity around doing these in a much more granular or specific way. 

    More recently, it's, it is less clear whether online is good or bad, and I think that's just about the methodology of the studies. 

    If you step back from it, of course, online is brilliant. If it engages you with people and if there is if you can't go out or you aren't out or you're feeling down and you get this online engagement, it can pull you up and make you feel wonderful. So it makes absolutely great sense that's happening. I would say, however, if you're with people, put your phones away because being online and looking down at a technology when you should be engaging face-to-face with another human creature, and you have evolved together over thousands and millions of years to understand each other's body, language, face-to-face, is not healthy. So put the phones away. But generally speaking online in moderation and if it's used to benefit is a value, of course it can be toxic, but that's, in terms of the messaging.  

    [00:36:11] Jonathan: And what if there'll be people listening to this who are saying I'd really love to have more social relationships, but I don't really know how to start, is there anything from your studies or experience that might actually be like, what are the actionable advice that you might give to somebody who's saying, actually, I'd really like to do that, and I don't feel very confident about how to get there?  

    [00:36:33] Rose Anne: So this is the biggest problem. This is, this is a really big challenge, but I've thought a lot about this. 

    So first of all, the things you enjoy in your life. Do them with other people. We've talked about that. So go to the gym, do exercise classes, try and eat out even if in, in a club fashion where there's a tasting menus for people, et cetera, that sort of thing, look into that. Secondly, creativity is really good for us, and creativity with others is even better. 

    So if you have a fancy doing a bit of art or singing in a choir, et cetera, join one. It takes. It's hard. I joined a choir recently 'cause I think, I thought to myself, I'm talking about this all the time and I'm doing nothing about it. Okay. I'm going to join a choir. And I did. And I, it's just such fun and it's a lovely thing to do with other people. 

    Volunteering if you're really struggling. Just organizations are always looking for volunteers. It's a good way to get started. 

    [00:37:28] Jonathan: That's amazing. And let's say you're listening to this and thinking I want to be a better friend, I want to improve the health of people. But maybe you are a bit unsure how to do that. Maybe you are in a country where you feel like, oh, I don't want to overstep the boundary or embarrass myself. 

    What's your advice?  

    [00:36:33] Rose Anne: So I think pick up the phone and ring somebody and say, look, you came into my mind today. I've just been thinking about you. How are you? I haven't heard from you for a very long time. And since Covid, I've decided to reach out to people that I haven't heard from.

    Somebody did that recently. They were reading my book and I hadn't heard from him for a long time, and he rang me. The evening after he read the evening, he read the friendship chapter and he said, you know what? I read your chapter and I realized how lonely I am. 

    So we met, we had dinner and we've kept up, engaging, et cetera. 

    He was a great friend of myself and my husband, and, but we lost it and now we've reengaged. So I think reach out people will understand will want it themselves.  

    I think that's a beautiful message. And actually, maybe a perfect place to, to wrap up. I know we could talk for hours about this but I know you've got a busy ward that you you need to go to. 

    I'm just gonna try and do a little summary of the conversation, which I thought was fascinating, and I am now going to think about a few people that I think I should go and give a call to later today.  

    I think we started with this wonderful idea that life gets better after 50. And that all the actual science says that. So quite the opposite. I think of what many of us believe. That only 20% of our sort of health span is really about our genetics. So 80% is really within our control.. And then I think we talked about your brilliant study in Ireland and I think the fascinating data that it's been showing about the importance of our relationships with other people actually on our physical health. 

    So not just our our mental health, but actually how we are and the inflammation in our body. I think one thing you talked about was sense of purpose, that actually this is like a deep need that we have. Really practically. Don't retire if you don't want to. Forced retirement is a terrible thing to do to people. 

    People can feel invisible. It doesn't mean you shouldn't retire if you want to, but maybe, dip in and out, maybe transition. And above all, if you do retire, you need to have a new sense of purpose because the people who have this purpose are just gonna be happier and they're also gonna be healthier for longer. 

    You said this wonderful thing that you are as young as you feel. So basically if you can. Feel you're 25 like me, that's actually gonna be a great thing, even if I have to admit looking in the mirror is not entirely true. And then we talked a lot about this interaction. You said friends and family, both can be equally important. 

    Toxic relationships can be bad and the challenge with family I think, is that if you do have a difficult relationship, it's hard to walk away from that, unlike friends. But that in general, it's really about this. I think you said the quality of these relationships, so it's not about having hundreds of friends, it's having some really good friends. 

    And if you haven't got all the friendship you want, and it sounds like almost everybody is probably lonelier maybe it's a bit better in Ireland, you said, but certainly if you're listening in the US or the uk, probably many people are lonelier than they would like to be. There are lots of things that you can do and I thought you had some great examples like, go to exercise classes with people. Don't do it at home in, in your room. If you're interested in something creative, go and do an art class, join a choir. 

    Volunteering, you're saying like people are always looking for that, and that's very powerful. But even down to where you live, because being isolated is bad. So can you be with other people? 

    And then I think we wrapped up with, I think, this brilliant message, which I love the idea of everyone on this podcast thinking about right now, which is there someone you could reach out to right now, at the end of this show, could you pick up the phone to someone you haven't spoken to for a long time? 

    And if you just said, you know what, I've been thinking of you and I really wanted to give you a call. Rather than us being scared, Rose Anne, you're saying actually that person's gonna be delighted and you could actually be improving their health.  

    [00:41:25] Rose Anne: Yes, absolutely. That's great, Jonathan. Wonderful summary. 

    [00:41:29] Jonathan: I love the idea. I am going to make that call straight after this podcast. You are going to look after award full of sick people. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the book. I think the study's amazing. And I hope that we can have you back again in the future to talk about the latest learnings. 

    [00:41:46] Rose Anne: Thank you so much. Thank you.  

    [00:41:48] Jonathan: Thank you Rose Anne for joining me on ZOE Science & Nutrition today. If you want to understand how to support your body with the best nutrition to give you more healthy years, then you may want to try ZOE's personalized nutrition program. You can learn more and get 10% off by going to joinZOE.com/podcast.

     As always, I'm your host, Jonathan Wolf. ZOE Science & Nutrition is produced by Yella Hewings-Martin, Richard Willan and Alex Jones. See you next time.

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